Saturday, December 24, 2016

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Fan poster by Phil Noto
Movie: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, and Forrest Whitaker
Release Date: December 16, 2016

The most disappointing part of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was Michael Giacchino’s score, not that the audience is likely to notice. It feels like a cheap knock-off of the classic John Williams themes that everyone has come to know and love; something that belongs in a parody film. Then again, given the iconic status of Williams’ original music, maybe the audience will notice. Regardless…

Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One is enjoyable enough. There is no overarching issue, and nothing is particularly wrong with the film per se. The script is crafted well enough, the new characters introduced throughout the film are likable enough, the special effects are top notch. All of the pieces were in place for what should be a blockbuster movie event, and yet, at the end of the film, what struck me most was how utterly lackluster the whole thing felt. I couldn’t help leaving the theatre just a bit unsatisfied, surprising given the overwhelmingly positive response the picture has received from others.

The story begins with a young Jyn Erso (portrayed by child-actress Beau Gadsdon here; Felicity Jones later) and her family hiding from the Empire on a remote farm planet. After her father, scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken by the Empire’s Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and forced to construct Episode IV’s Death Star weapon, Jyn is found and raised by Forrest Whitaker’s Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera. One might expect an actor of Whitaker’s caliber to be featured throughout the movie, yet he's unfortunately reduced to little more than a cameo. He does play an important role in the plot, however, providing crucial information to Jyn on her father’s whereabouts and the Death Star he’s constructed.

Meanwhile, a Rebellion has been brewing throughout the galaxy. In search of her father, Jyn joins rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who seek Bodhi Rock (Riz Ahmed), a defected Storm Trooper with additional information on the Death Star. While rescuing Rock, they stumble upon blind monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), who is “One with the Force; and the Force is in [him],” and his skeptical protector Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). The cast of Rogue One provide the film its brightest spot. Tudyk’s K-2SO is an especially welcome addition to the Star Wars mythology, offering plenty of witty, sarcastic banter for the others to play off. Chirrut Imwe is also rather compelling. A former guardian of an ancient Jedi religious site, Imwe serves as a reminder of the importance of faith and hope, and provides a nice contrast with the other, more cynical members of the squadron.

Ultimately Rogue One works best when it abandons typical Star Wars motifs and stands alone as its own film. It almost seems as though Edwards wanted to do something different with this picture, but didn’t fully commit to fleshing out exactly what that meant. Perhaps the issues stem from studio over-involvement, an unsurprising fact if true given how risk-averse The Walt Disney Company has become in recent years. Regardless, Rogue One had the potential to be something truly different and special; a spy thriller set in the Star Wars universe. It opts instead to be little more than a billboard for Disney’s future Star Wars endeavors, and seems to exist only to remind the audience that there’s plenty more where this came from. A bad movie? No. Just far from a great one.

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